September 18, 2012

With all the beer-rating apps available for smart phones, there’s never any shortage of viewpoints when it comes to the quality of one brand of beer or another. Of course, there have been websites and blogs with taste-tests and ratings for years, too (something I have chosen—for now—not to bore you with) resulting in the fact that there are plenty of opinions out there, should you ever need one to help shape your beer-drinking decisions.

Me? Usually it’s whether I think the label is attractive or not. Or the tap-handle, if we’re talking draught beer.

But I digress. What does tend to irk me is how many “raters” or commenters will take what we know to be a perfectly good beer and whine about how it smelled skunky—as if that quality was brewed into the beer at the outset.

The recent example I came across was a rating on Pintly for Stella Artois, which I have enjoyed for many years, and still do upon occasion. I’ve been lucky enough never to have had a bad one (most were on draught) or an old one in the bottle. And that is the key.

Having sold beer, I know the importance of regular stock turnover and rotation. And everyone should know the effect that things like light and age have on beer. So if the “rater” a) didn’t notice that the bottle may have been dusty, or - b) wasn’t fully confident of the beer’s freshness, they may have wanted to delay final judgment until a proper sample could be obtained.

It’s not uncommon to come across a beer with a strange, unpleasant or slightly-off taste / smell, even when fresh. But generally-speaking, skunkiness should be a red flag that says “dammit – this beer is past its prime, or hasn’t been stored properly.”  That’s probably not the brewery’s fault, though it’s true some styles and some bottles (green) are more susceptible to this odiferous condition. For more on this, check out a nice article here.

You would hope that an educated beer drinker would realize that it was more likely that the particular “sample” was skunky, rather than the “beer” being skunky—and perhaps not representative of the product as originally produced. To some, that’s a fine line, but bad things can happen to beer after it leaves the brewery and before it gets to your mouth.

Which, in the end, is a pretty good endorsement for the idea of enjoying your local craft beer, anyway. It should always be fresh. Right?

Note: I did come across a story headlined "Skunky Beer Recalled by Stella Artois" in 2010 - but that problem was not skunkiness at all (innaccurate headline) but a "sour" taste due to a production problem...and none of that beer reached US shores, anyway.


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